A mammogram is a special type of x-ray used only for the breast. Mammography can be used either to look for very early breast cancer in women without breast symptoms (screening) or to examine women who do have breast symptoms (diagnostic). If you are having a mammogram because you have found a lump, it is important to remember that most breast lumps are not cancer, but the only way to be certain is to have it tested.
What to expect?
Tell the radiographer if you are, or think you may be, pregnant. Do not use talcum powder or underarm deodorant on the day of your examination as these can show up on the pictures. If you get severe breast pain connected with your menstrual cycle, it is better to make your appointment for the week after your period. You will need to undress from the waist up and a gown will be provided. One of your breasts will be positioned between two plastic plates that will flatten the breast slightly. This lasts only a few seconds and cannot do any permanent damage to your breast. The flatter the breast, the better the quality of the picture, making it easier for the radiologist to read. Most women find that this is a bit uncomfortable, but not painful. Generally two x-rays are taken of each breast. It is also useful to compare the results with earlier examinations and you should take any previous mammography results with you.
The mammograms are looked at by radiologists who then send a report to your doctor. This process usually takes about a week.
Sometimes, after a mammogram, you may be asked to have an ultrasound as well if the radiologist wants to find out more about a lump or a dense area of tissue in the breast (see Breast Ultrasound).